I was meeting the man who previously owned the house I now called home. After moving out of the house, almost immediately, his wife died of a brain aneurysm. His children were now grown and at colleges on different coasts. It had been a few years. The reason for the meeting was to give him a box of photos I had found in the bottom of a closet in a room I hardly used in the house. The pictures were mundane but gave off the seductive allure of private lives lived elsewhere. How was it that all of this had happened without me! How could anything happen without me! I felt the shock of someone realizing they are not the only person alive. A family. People dancing. A dog. Many photos of his children in various stages of growth. I recognized them from when I did a walkthrough of the house before buying it. Buying the house, I had the sensation, born out of jealousy, that I hated this family. They were ugly, dull, and seemed to be already dead. I was buying a home from ghosts! Which excited me—it felt like I was going to take their place! Even though I hated reaching out to people in those days, I found it only right that the man should have these photos of his family. We met at a disgusting café that I hated. He surprisingly looked younger, more alive, interested and interesting: as if losing his family had restored his health. I brought the box of photos, put it on the table. He went to it, opened it, and began looking. His initial excitement seemed to turn very quickly into a strange community of features I had never seen on a face before. These are not my photos, he said. Of course they are, I said. No, they are not, he said. These are your children though, I said, picking up a photo of his two children staring coldly into the camera. I’ve never seen these children before, he said. I mean, they have similar features to mine, he said, but they aren’t mine. I thought he was either clearly lying or having a breakdown of his own. These were clearly his dull and ugly children in the photos. But he kept saying no, no they weren’t. He ended up refusing to look at them further. He gave me no handshake. He left without paying for the large, gross coffee and slice of pumpkin pie he had ordered. I put a bite into the pie. It put my stomach in a bad mood, which I reveled in. Leaves fell outside. The box of photos sat there with me. I felt like a man.
Shane Kowalski was born outside of Philadelphia. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Puerto del Sol, New Delta Review, Passages North, and other places. He is currently a lecturer at Cornell University.